From left: Col Arif Bin Hudeib, Brig Mohammad Rashid Bayat, Lt Col Majid Al Asem and Lt Col Jasem Al Suwaidi sharing details of the drug bust at a press conference in Sharjah on Wednesday. Image Credit: Courtesy: Sharjah Police

Sharjah: Police in Sharjah have arrested members of a major international drug-smuggling ring and seized 20kg of crystal methamphetamine and heroin in what is described as the biggest trafficking gang bust in the emirate in recent years.

Nineteen men were arrested by Sharjah Police and federal anti-narcotics officers following raids in the emirate over a month after receiving a tip-off. The drugs seized were worth more than Dh15 million.

Announcing the details at a press conference attended by Brigadier Mohammad Rashid Bayat, director of Sharjah Police Operations; Lieutenant-Colonel Majid Al Asem, acting director of the Anti-Narcotics Department; Lieutenant-Colonel Jasem Al Suwaidi, head of the Anti-Narcotics Section at Sharjah Police; and Colonel Arif Bin Hudeib, head of Media and Public Relations Department, police described the suspects as “dangerous”.

Following a tip-off, the police monitored the movement of the Asian suspects who used social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook and twitter to promote their banned substances.

Among the suspects, who were aged between 20 and 43 years, several had entered the UAE on visit visas, while others were illegal residents.

After the first suspect was arrested following a tip-off about his illegal activities, he led the police to his partner who was arrested from his house where a large quantity of drugs were found.

The two then led the police to the rest of the gang members who were arrested over a period of one month.

The drugs were found in the suspects’ houses, concealed in abandoned vehicles, in workshops for spare parts in industrial areas, as well as in remote areas where they were buried in sand.

The police recovered 20kg of crystal methamphetamine and heroin worth Dh15,270,000.

The suspects confessed that they had stored the drugs according to instructions from suppliers based outside the country and that they intended to promote and sell them in the UAE.

The gang used social media to promote their illegal substances by contacting people through closed groups, where they exchanged pictures and details for meeting locations.

The police have launched a manhunt for the suppliers and other members of the gang who are based outside the country.

Brig Bayat said police are making all efforts to safeguard youngsters from drug traffickers, with a renewed war on drugs in schools, on streets and in public places.

“The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards illegal drug use and drug trafficking is a serious offence. The rate of illegal drug use in the UAE is low compared with international standards. Possession of the smallest amount of any illegal drug is punishable by a minimum of four years’ imprisonment,” he said.

Drug use trends

The UAE is considered the first country in the Arab world and the fourth globally in identifying new drug trafficking trends and countering illicit production, trafficking and abuse of drugs.

Brig Bayat said the most commonly used and trafficked drugs in the UAE are hashish, crystal methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, amphetamine-type drugs and prescription drugs.

While drugs are not cultivated or produced in the UAE, pain relievers are the most common type of narcotics, which are taken illicitly and are a common cause of overdose, he said.

However, there is now more control on clinics prescribing controlled drugs in the country.

Those who seek addiction treatment in the UAE won’t be prosecuted, according to Article 43 of the Anti-Narcotics Law.

Family members can even come forward on someone’s behalf, and while those who use illegal drugs used to face a minimum of four years’ imprisonment in the UAE, they now — if they fit the criteria — will be given treatment instead.

The Article is all encompassing and applies to all persons of all nationalities residing in the UAE.